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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters' Speech to the Orange County Business Council

February, 20 2008

Thank you, Mayor Pringle, for that wonderful introduction and for taking time out of your busy schedule today to show me some of the exciting ways Anaheim and Orange County are fighting congestion. And I appreciate the Orange County Business Council bringing this great group of leaders together today to talk about the transportation challenges ahead.

Mayor Pringle and others here know that fast-growing cities like Anaheim cannot afford to sit back and wait for Washington to solve your transportation woes. You have taken charge of your own destiny by embracing private initiative and innovation.

What I have seen and heard this morning is impressive. From plans for the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center to congestion pricing on the 91 Express Lanes, this is a community that understands we must find new ways forward to deal with congestion and growing demands for transportation infrastructure. It is important to our quality of life, our economic prosperity, and the environment.

America today in the midst of a historical transformation in our approach to transportation infrastructure, and you have the chance to help lead that change. It is a time not unlike 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower had the dream and courage to propose and begin the construction of a national Interstate Highway System that would revolutionize the American economy and way of life.

Ike believed that directly charging the people who used the Interstate system was the fairest and most efficient approach. But he was limited by the technologies of his day.

So, we built the Interstate system using indirect gas taxes, instead of tolls. And while we succeeded in constructing the largest highway system in the world, the seeds of our current problems were sown.

In time, special interests began to infect the federal transportation program. Politics, not helping commuters and travelers get from place to place, started dictating how funds were invested and how the system was managed. As a result, congestion has exploded, billions of dollars have been squandered, and public confidence in our transportation policies has collapsed.

The powerbrokers on the Potomac have transformed the system Eisenhower created to build highways into one that doles out patronage instead.

The failings of the current system are clear. Over the last 10 years, we have nearly doubled the amount of money we spend on transportation. Yet traffic congestion has increased by more than 300 percent since 1982.

Worse, millions of dollars are wasted every year on bridges to nowhere. And sadly, communities across the country live with clogged roads, wasteful spending, and ineffective financing approaches.

There is no greater symptom of our failure than the fact that Americans simply do not support putting more money into the system. The public is acutely aware of what is going on. After all, they experience the system’s shortcomings every day.

But now we have the opportunity to put an end to poor performance and lowered expectations, and establish a new transportation vision for the century ahead.

Cities like Anaheim do not have to watch helplessly as their young people move away to avoid grueling commutes. You don’t have to worry that traffic tie-ups will spoil vacations and send visitors in search of less congested venues. And you don’t have to come hat in hand to Washington to beg for transportation dollars.

I am here to tell you that there is a better way – a way that will allow us to do more for transportation than Eisenhower ever dreamed possible.

I am here to tell you there is upwards of $400 billion available in the private sector right now for infrastructure investment – if we are willing to accept it.

Indeed, we can unleash the greatest new wave of transportation investment this country has ever seen.

We can live in a time when transportation projects are built that actually address the demands of consumers and the needs of shippers.

We can live in a time when commuters and shippers set transportation priorities, instead of central planners.

And we can live in a time when commuters aren't afraid of their commutes, holidays aren't hamstrung by travel delays, and shippers aren't sidelined by traffic tie-ups.

This is not some Tomorrowland vision. We have the resources, the technology, and the know-how to launch a new transportation era in America today.

We can build ambitious new projects like ARTIC. We can manage our existing freeways and freight corridors better. We can cut traffic significantly, save energy and improve air quality. And we can do it right now.

All we need is the political courage to embrace a new paradigm in transportation financing and construction. That is because that $400 billion doesn’t come from new taxes, new bonds, or new debt. The money has already been raised. It is money that the private sector has available right now, ready to invest in transportation.

Key to tapping these resources is to go back to Ike’s original premise, and embrace the power of tolling.

Unlike the 1950s, when technology limited toll collection to expensive, unsightly, and inconvenient toll booths, we never need to build a new toll plaza again. Instead, we can quickly and easily install high-speed, open-road tolling equipment that will never require a single driver to slow down.

Most people here are familiar with the FasTrak transponders that help move almost 35,000 vehicles a day through the 91 Express Lanes on the Riverside Freeway – the first fully automated toll road in the world.

You know this simple but powerful technology unlocks enormous new opportunities for communities to both attract new investment capital and manage congestion through variable prices.

You know it gives commuters greater say over where projects are built.

And you know tolling helps cut congestion. The Riverside Freeway was the first in the country to take advantage of variable tolls to produce reliable commutes even during rush hour. And the Orange County Transit Authority is setting the pace again by looking at how to take congestion pricing to the next level with dynamic tolls that are reset based on real-time traffic conditions.

Some in America still fear tolls. But here in Orange County, you are helping show the country that if we are going to keep traffic moving, we cannot shy away from open, honest debates about what works and what does not.

High-speed, open-road tolling works. It is easily implemented. It immediately cuts congestion. It immediately improves the environment. It immediately gives people choices.

Tolling is far less regressive than gasoline taxes, and technology gives communities the flexibility to adjust fees to not only to keep traffic flowing, but also to help those for whom the tolls would pose a burden. And tolling ensures that transportation dollars stay and flow into places like Orange County, where they can be used for roads and transit.

Florida and Texas already are attracting billions in new transportation investment by embracing open-road tolling. In fact, in Florida, they recently announced they had over 3 million transponders in circulation. And not surprisingly, they are beginning to reverse the failure expectations that have come to plague our system.

And in December, we helped Virginia close an extremely creative transaction to widen one of the most congested highways in America using private financing and state-of-the-art variable electronic tolls.

Public-private partnerships are at work right now, and creating new transportation realities across the country. The message from investors is the same everywhere we go: “We want to invest in America, if only you would let us.”

And they consider California one of the country’s most attractive opportunities.

Governor Schwarzenegger is pushing to expand the role of the private sector in meeting the mounting transportation needs in this state. He knows ideas like open-road tolling and public-private partnerships are not just theories. They are real solutions being used by real leaders.

Mayor Pringle is an excellent example. He is pursuing one of this country’s most ambitious public-private partnerships yet with plans for Anaheim’s new transportation center.

ARTIC is visionary in concept, and revolutionary in approach. Anaheim is one of the most welcoming cities in the world, hosting more than 20 million visitors a year. And now the Mayor has thrown out the welcome mat to the private sector to participate in the creation of a transportation center worthy of a great destination city. And as the Mayor announced earlier today, expressions of interest and ideas from potential private partners are pouring in.

With ARTIC, Anaheim is showing again the benefits of partnering with business to unleash the innovation and investment locked in the private sector. These arrangements are delivering projects faster, incorporating the best of contemporary design and technology, and taking advantage of modern financing.

At the Department of Transportation, we want to encourage, not discourage investment. And we want to inspire innovation, not stifle it.

This is the path to the transportation future America needs and deserves.

So in the coming months, our Department will issue new proposals aimed at doing just that.

These proposals will change the way we look at congestion, the way we invest in transportation, and the way we get goods moving again through our economy.

The proposals will do that by saying “no” to special interests, by saying “no” to spending transportation dollars on museums and lighthouses, and by saying “no” to earmarks.

The proposals will ask whether we want to settle for incremental increases in spending and exponential decreases in results, or, are we ready to embrace new investments and design, fund, and build the system we deserve and need.

The year ahead is going to be a defining one for transportation in the United States. This is a tremendous opportunity to open the door for the kinds of transportation solutions that come about when the private sector and communities and states are free to innovate.

Anaheim is already leading the way in this critical transformation. I want to encourage you to participate and make your voice heard. You need to push back against those who will push for greater dependency and more red tape from Washington.

We share the same goal – and I know we will be working together to create a transportation system that will keep this community and this country moving, and keep us competitive.

Thank you. And with that, I would be happy to hear your ideas and comments.

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